Also Talks Improv & The Influence Of ‘Shallow Grave’
If your job is making you feel murderous, there is perhaps no better cathartic experience at the multiplex this weekend than “Horrible Bosses.” The comedy stars Jason Sudeikis, Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jamie Foxx, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey and Jennifer Aniston and follows three friends, each dealing with an unbearable boss who is making their life hell, when they decide to do the unthinkable: they are going to kill their bosses. Enlisting the help of a “murder consultant” — the appropriately named Motherfucker Jones — the hapless trio sets out on their mission but of course, it’s far more complicated than they ever could have imagined.
The film is directed by Seth Gordon, who broke out with his hit documentary “The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters” and who has since made big strides into comedy, helming “Four Christmases” as well as episodes of the hit shows “Community,” “The Office” and “Parks & Recreation.” With that experience under his belt, Gordon was ready to meet the challenge of wrangling and working with the very funny and talented cast. We recently chatted with the director and spoke about the influences on the film, how improv and editing helped shape the movie, how “Horrible Bosses” originally ended and his upcoming remake of “WarGames.” With that in mind, we shouldn’t have to warn you that there are some spoilers below.
The Playlist: What drew you to “Horrible Bosses”?
Seth Gordon: Well New Line had repurchased the ‘King Of Kong’ and wanted to remake it as the narrative feature so we’ve been trying to find something to work on together and they sent me this script, and I just laughed and laughed when I read it. [While] I haven’t had that many horrible bosses in Hollywood, I had some horrible bosses growing up when I had work in high school, and of course I could certainly relate to the indignities of evil bosses.
The film is pretty raunchy, was the studio ever concerned about how far the R-rated comedy goes?
They never [asked] to change even a little bit. I think basically “The Hangover” has paved the way for that sort of no-holds-barred comedy. And while I think some of what we have in our movie is pretty intense, most of it’s language so there’s not…I think as these things go it could actually be quite a bit more intense than it gets. The cocaine stuff and Kenny and his hand jobs are pretty extreme, but they didn’t shy away from anything. Because when you have a character called Motherfucker Jones, you’re pretty much all in.
Do you think this film could have been made before the success of “The Hangover”?
I don’t know man, I’m not sure it could have been. It couldn’t have been green lit which is probably the question you’re asking. I don’t know that it could have been made…this script predated “The Hangover” script. This script was first purchased I think in 2005? And then it was rewritten [and went] through various iterations. There was a Chris Rock version at one point that predates me…and then I read the version in 2009, which was just amazing. It had gotten sort of a face-lift overhaul thing and I loved it, I just loved it.
Was achieving the tone between the characters’ desperate situations at work and the comedy difficult?
Yeah, I mean I’m glad you picked up on that. The tonal tight rope walk of the movie was pretty tricky because oddly, most people just remember the laughs and the funnies. But I think the reason the movie works is because it taps into a very real feeling. At least amongst my friends… we all sort of bought in some way into the American dream, that if you can work hard and focus and keep your nose to the grindstone then things will work out and then honestly, the rug got yanked out and a lot of the job security and the upward mobility and however you want to identify the American dream, is just not true. And I do think that’s what underpins the story and that’s why honestly the movie works. Although most people watching it probably won’t go there and don’t need to because I think it’s just a sign of the times, or it’s part of the times.
Were there any films that you looked to as inspiration for the tone you were trying to achieve?
Yeah, I mean I love “Shallow Grave.” I love the thriller aspect of it all falling down on them, what they’ve done. Obviously “Office Space” is a great film to draw on, Lumberg is such a great character although quite a bit stupider than Spacey’s character. I obviously watched “Throw Momma From The Train” [and] “Strangers On A Train” because they’re mentioned because the plot really is quite similar in some ways. So yeah, those are all points of inspiration.
How did the cast of the bosses participate in shaping their characters?
In every case we were collaborating. Like with Aniston and her people, she has this whole team of people that she’s worked with in a bunch of movies and we collaborated to come up with a different look for her for Dr. Julia. Plus Colin in our first meeting was talking about really trying to disappear into the role and how could we do that? What about hair, what about a bald cap, what about a combover? They were very involved in creating the look, in creating the character and in the case of Colin, we had those prosthetics manufactured and then as soon as he put them on he just became this other human and it was remarkable to watch. Even though we’re compromising his fortunate genetics, it didn’t matter. It was great to see him become that guy.
You certainly have them playing against type. Was that the thinking behind Bob Newhart cameo?
Well actually that was a scene of additional photography. Because I’m a pretty ruthless editor and… the movie landed differently than scripted and we needed an additional scene. We showed Bob a rough cut of the movie and he totally got it and wanted to be part of it. So that was an additional scene we shot because we asked the question, “Who is the least likely person to be a horrible boss of anybody we can think of?” And obviously we were thrilled that he said yes. He was the first person that we offered that to and I think it’s really exciting. The sad truth is that most twenty-somethings have no idea who he is. If they’ve seen him ever it was in “Elf.” So it’s really for the older group who go to see the movie who will know who he is.
But how did the film end originally?
Bateman ended up as the boss at his office and one of his workers hated him. Sort of [showing the] cycle of [abuse], and that was alright, but I just liked better the idea that it didn’t quite work out for him. I liked the idea that they embarked on an unethical plan that didn’t work out the way they expected, but it also didn’t work out rosy for everyone. I think that it’s much more realistic — I mean obviously we’re not in reality here — but it’s better storytelling that it didn’t end up all rosy.
How did improv shape the movie? Were there any scenes that came out of letting the cast riff?
I have a background myself in improv so I have a real tolerance for the way you can improve something by riffing on set. I think you can always make it better. I’ll tell you, like fifteen to twenty percent of the movie is just straight up improv. It’s not random improv it’s tied to the source. [For example] it was written that they would find the cocaine and then drop it. But it was Bateman’s idea when they dropped it and started cleaning it up, then they should start getting high. Charlie said if we’re going to get high then we should start talking like we’re high. And all of that stuff wasn’t in the script and I think it’s a really funny scene in the movie that doesn’t feel like improv, it feels like it came right out of the story. It doesn’t feel random or like one-liners that were punched up in a writer’s room. It feels in the moment, so that’s why these guys are incredible. They know how to innovate and improvise within the boundaries of the story.
When the film hits DVD will there be any extra scenes?
Oh yeah, the DVD stuff for this movie is amazing. It really is. Like I said, I’m a pretty cutthroat editor and that’s my background. There are a lot of scenes that are really funny on their own that I just didn’t feel we needed for the final movie. It’s important to me that a movie really moves. In this one, you never feel that it slows down to a halt for like a thoughtful character moment, which I find excruciatingly boring, so instead it really cruises, so all of the stuff we lost is great fodder for DVD material. Because it’s so important to me that you’re efficient as a story teller. An example is when Sudeikis is in the car and the cop is asking if they sped through the light and he reaches over and is like, “My man.” That whole scene that ends with that was an improv … and it was great but it was not scripted. What was scripted was they would go to the police station and be in the lobby and turn on each other. But I thought it would be much funnier as a cut to go to the back of the police car, and that’s what we did. So we got a police car and we changed the plan. But I’d already shot that lobby scene which is great but not necessary. So you go from “My man” to the back of the cop car to being interrogated by the cops. So in that case there’s a great scene that isn’t necessarily in the movie but is going to be funny on the DVD.
“Horribles Bosses” is quite a different kind of movie than “WarGames.” What’s the attraction for you?
Oh I just love the original movie. I love “WarGames,” it’s such a great movie. I know a fair bit of the world of hacking, at least for a filmmaker I suppose. And politics have changed an awful lot since 1983, it’s actually quite a bit more plausible that a hacker would get himself into a pretty bad spot with government computers, so I think this movie lends itself to an update in the way that other movies don’t, where it feels like a money grab. It’s a very interesting concept that would play out really interestingly in 2013.
Okay, so where do you go from here? What are you looking at next?
We’re in the middle of creating “WarGames” and I’d like to make something else while we’re doing that. There are a few independent films that I’d like to get made, maybe we’ll do one of those.
One that I know that you were linked to recently is “The Only Living Boy in New York,” is that still on as a possibility?
Absolutely a possibility, I would love to make that film, it’s all just a matter of financing so if you have a few million dollars let me know.
“Horrible Bosses” is in theaters now.